Thursday, 7 October 2010


At 21 years old, I can justify reflecting upon my oh-so-memorable teenage years with a matter of hindsight, asking the dreaded question, “Why, why, why?”

Growing up in the sloaney scene of Surrey, immersed in the showy lifestyle of the middle-classes – Land Rover driving, Starbucks sipping, ‘rah, rah, rahing’ of the ultimate Guildford-goer, such traits inevitably influenced my teenage antics. And what does the archetypal Surrey teenager desire more than to adorn their credentials with the epitome of preppy-cool: Jack Wills?

At the ripe old-age of 16, my peers and I were a walking, talking Jack Wills advertisement, obsessed with not only purchasing the latest Jack Wills merchandise, preferably the items with the biggest and most grotesque emblem available, but were further preoccupied with living the Jack Wills lifestyle.

Jack Wills was born in the quaint, Cornwall coastal town of Salcombe, founded by Peter Williams, grandson of the now legendary Jack Williams. Beginning with a vision of targeting the niche market of the public school, sporting elite, Jack Wills was all about the understated. However, as soon as Williams had the small but sweet taste of success, his business flourishing amidst the riches of his rather specific and wealthy audience, modesty and all things understated went out-the-window and mass-produced mayhem arrived.

As Jack Wills stores multiplied by the minute, moving from the beat of the back-alleys to the heartless high street, my teenage world became immersed in bleached, back-combed hair, pungent fake-tan, lickings of make-up and, most fundamentally, the quintessential uniform: ultra-baggy sweatpants, Uggs and a t-shirt/hoodie combo. We weren’t just buying into a brand at the expense of our state school parents’ buckling bank balances, we were buying into a movement, a cult. To be ‘Jack Wills’ meant to be cool, credited and conforming – the age-old definition of the teen.

Having swiftly moved on from my college years into the throes of university, whilst having largely outgrown the cult/curse of the teen, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind, becoming a loyal employee of the Jack Wills Brighton store. Whilst this was primarily to fund my ever increasing university debts, I can’t deny I didn’t take advantage of the perks, including an outrageous 75% discount. I was suddenly able to buy a hoodie, with the shelf price of £60, for a meagre £15. However, alongside such perks, I began to understand that I wasn’t close to taking advantage of Jack Wills but was instead awoken to the disgusting profit being pocketed, it becoming screamingly clear that Jack Wills was the one taking advantage of me.

Throughout my three years working/slaving away at Jack Wills on minimum wage, folding to ridiculous precision and increasingly finding it a challenge to see and hear as the lights were dimmed and the music turned-up shift-by-shift, I gained a rare insight into the mechanics of a brand which was rocketing to success. I now understand that a brand, whilst so outstandingly beautiful on the outside has the worrying ability to hide incredibly ugly depths. Ordered to embody the brand as a representative of Jack Wills: to wear a certain amount of make-up to hide my working class imperfections; to relentlessly backcomb and vigorously hairspray my mane to a prestigious, matted perfection; to meticulously layer my clothes so I exuded public school chic, it became increasingly difficult to tell myself apart from my fellow co-workers. I became a life-size Jack Wills manikin.

Tutored about a specific Jack Wills code, one which works to separate the beautiful people’s CVs (a smiley face), from those who don’t quite comply to the Jack Wills’ beauty requirements, (a cross), I can only fear for the future of the Jack Wills cult. With a mantra embodying nothing but beauty, money and popularity, we can only expect the teenagers of the 21st century to be self evaluating, materialistic, pretentious and a shallow army of youngsters. Whilst I can look back on my teenage years with cringeworthy hindsight, I seek pleasure in reminiscing about those days, most importantly because it is my past and I can confidently leave it exactly where it is. However, as Jack Wills adorn their brand with a powerful and expanding ethos, I fear that the Jack Willian teens of 2010 will soon struggle to separate the harmful shallows of their past from their increasingly ambiguous futures, resulting in something not so fabulously British.

Rose Brownlow

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